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Last edited 20 Jun 2023
 What are phthalates ?
Phthalates or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid, they are man-made organic compounds or industrial chemicals, primarily used as plasticisers, particularly in forms pf PVC but also in many other products. Phthalates were first produced in the 1920's by reacting phthalic anhydride with an alcohol, by the 1930's they were industrially produced as a key ingredient in PVC to help increase flexibility, transparency, durability, as well as a binding agent or a solvent ingredient in insect repellant.
 What are phthalates used for ?
From around the 1950's the use of Phthalates increased and they were added to household items such as vinyl flooring, plastic toys, plastic containers, personal care products such as hair care, body wash, cosmetics, fragrances, air fresheners, household cleaners, and some food. Their use in many of these items was not listed on product labels and so in many it was impossible to know if they contained Phthalates.
 How much phthalate is produced ?
In terms of the plasticiser market the share that is made up by phthalates started to decrease from around 2000 but because the overall market continued to increase in size, so to did production. In the 1980's around 2.7 million tonnes were produced globally which had more than doubled by 2015 to 5.5 million. Figures vary but some sources place phthalate production today at around 8 million tonnes by 2020.
 When were phthalates restricted ?
In 2003 researchers at the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) documented exposure to phthalates across the American public and recommended further study, in he same year the EU moved to ban five phthalates in cosmetics. They are believed to be an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) that can alter hormonal balance, causing reproductive, developmental and other health issues. In 2008 some phthalates were banned from children's products, in 2014 the Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (Chap) on Phthalates finalised a report on the subject, in 2018 the EU strengthen its rules on particular phthalates.
Researchers have in the past linked phthalates to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioural issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Exposure risk is most common through contamination in food and drink packaging, which increases when foods are warmed or the type of food is oily, but exposure risk in different products also relates to the content level in those products.
 Are phthalates in building products ?
The America Chemistry Council confirms the use of phthalates in many different buildings products and states risk levels as being very low "High phthalates are a family of chemical compounds primarily used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—or vinyl—flexible, pliant and durable. Flexible vinyl products made with high phthalates can help reduce a building’s environmental footprint. Phthalates are widely used, and even when scientists hypothesize extreme exposures from phthalates in building products, because of unique properties of high phthalates, the predicted exposure levels are hundreds or thousands of times below the safe level established by regulatory authorities."
The RoHS Directive currently restricts the use of ten substances, four of which are phthalates; bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) and each are restricted by use to 0.1%.
All products with an electrical and electronic component, unless specifically excluded, have to comply with these restrictions. In 2017, the Commission adopted a legislative proposal adjusting the scope of the RoHS Directive. Manufacturers placing electrical goods on the market in Great Britain and/or Northern Ireland must evaluate their production controls to ensure that their products do not exceed the maximum prescribed levels of the following hazardous substances.
 Examples of phthalates and their uses
Some (but not all phthalates are listed below)
- Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP) has been used as a plasticiser for PVC flooring, vinyl tiles, carpet tiles, artificial leather and in certain adhesives.
- Dibutyl phthalate (DnBP) added to plastics and other chemicals, used in elastomers, lacquers, explosives, printing inks, resin solvents, perfume oil solvents, paper coatings, adhesives, and nail polish.
- Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is used in polyvinyl chloride resins in flexible vinyl products, and as a test material for filtration systems.
- Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is ued in plastic packaging films, cosmetics, solvent for fragrances, a surface lubricant in food and pharmaceutical packaging, and medical tubing.
- Di-butyl phthalate (DBP) used in nitrocellulose lacquers, elastomers, explosives, nail polish, and solid rocket propellants.
- Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) used in vinyl flooring, sealants, paints, garments, footwear and artificial leather.
- Diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP) used in nitrocellulose lacquers, elastomers, nail polish, explosives and lacquers.
- Diisononyl phthalate (DiNP) used in automobile interiors, wire and cable insulation, gloves, tubing, garden hoses, and shoes.
- Di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP) used in medical tubing, storage bags, wire, cables, carpet backs, floor tiles, and adhesives.
- Dipentyl phthalate (DPP) used mainly in PVC products.
- Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP) used in nitro cellulose plastic, nail polish, explosive material, lacquer manufacturing,
- Di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) Vinyl tiles, flooring, carpet backing, window shades, wall coverings, pool liners.
- di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP) use in carpet backing, packaging films, medical tubing and blood storage bags, floor tile, wire, cables, and adhesives.
- di-isohexyl phthalate, dicyclohexyl phthalate (DcHP) used in nitrocellulose lacquers, elastomers, nail polishes.
- di-isoheptyl phthalate used mainly in PVC products and resins.
- Construction plastics market.
- Polybrominated biphenyls
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers PBDE
- Recyclable construction materials.
- Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment RoHS.
- Sandwich panel.
- Thermoplastic materials in buildings.
- Transparent insulation materials.
- Types of plastic in construction.
 External references
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